THE STORY OF THE WOMEN’S CHORUS MOVEMENT
Strong Voices tells the story of how a coalition of singers that began as a mostly separatist musical home for the lesbian community grew into an inclusive network welcoming women of all sexual and gender orientations and singing for social justice in the wider world.
Beginning with a look back at women’s singing communities, the early chapters retell the story of Miriam in the Hebrew Bible and describe the singing lives of the girls in the Greek Partheneia (girls’ choruses); the medieval nuns led by Hildegard of Bingen; the orphan girls in Antonio Vivaldi’s chorus at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice; and the young women for whom Johannes Brahms organized his Frauenchor. These girls and women may have experienced personal transformation and even exerted a momentary power over their audiences, but they lived and sang in societies controlled by men. Subsequent chapters describe the roles played by women singers in 19th and 20th century movements for social and racial justice. Out of these struggles came the women’s music movement of the 1970s and beyond, when young feminists—primarily lesbians—who had felt marginalized in the male-dominated Civil Rights and anti-war movements, began to create music of their own, and, eventually to find one another at women’s music concerts and festivals. The women’s choruses that grew out of these meetings sought to provide, in the words of Los Angeles Women’s Chorus founder Sue Fink, “a positive experience, where no one feels intimidated,” along with “excellence in musicianship and quality of music without sacrificing fun, spontaneity, support, and consciousness raising.”
Thirty years ago, these women’s choruses were among the few places where lesbians felt free to be themselves—in the words of one singer who had just come out in her school district, “the place to breathe.” Though LGBT people have become more visible in American society, women continue to find their authentic voices in feminist choruses. In the words of one singer, women’s choruses “have a mission that’s different from the Sweet Adelines, that’s different from the church chorus. It’s the beauty of the music combined with the connection of the women within your group, and then knowing you’re connected to women across the world.” Based on over 100 interviews with choral singers, directors and composers, as well as historical accounts of women’s choral lives over the centuries, Strong Voices celebrates the mission expressed by the network’s oldest chorus, Anna Crusis: “We sing to celebrate the diversity of women’s lives and culture; to find communion; to nurture and sustain; to comfort and to heal; to open hearts and minds; and to struggle together for a just and compassionate world.”